It is hard to imagine that deer hunting seasons are not that far off. Those passionate white-tailed pursuers among us are already having our thoughts turn toward the fall months to again catch a glimpse of deer slipping through the woods. 

Remember that it is never too early to start planning for deer hunting season. When the list-making note pad comes out, start by putting one critical item at the very top: Take your deer rifles out and get them sighted in — again.


Remember last season

Did all go well with the shots you made last season? Did you miss a fat doe or maybe the buck of a lifetime? If you did, then there is certainly cause to reevaluate the entire rifle setup.

For a new rifle, mount the scope according to the manufacturer’s recommendations, but do not rely on a “big box store” scope-mounting services. Double-check it all yourself. 

For an existing scoped rifle, break out your best tools to check the tightness of the scope mounts and the rings around the scope. Don’t over tighten, because sheering off a scope mount ring screw is big trouble.

If you find a screw loose, you might want to back up and start the process over from scratch to make sure everything is right. Consider using a thread locker “screw glue” to seal the threads. 

Before the next sight-in session, thoroughly clean the rifle’s bore with a bronze brush and enough swabs to come out clean. Then apply a very light coating of oil to the bore; more oil is not best.

Pull the bolt and brush clean the bolt face, extractor, ejector and the rails. Wipe clean with an oily rag.

This should put the rig in good stead to hit the shooting bench. 


Ammunition choices

Before you try to zero in your deer rifle, make certain you have the right ammunition for the job. Think back about previous shooting successes. Perhaps the deer you shoot keep running off because the bullet weight choice was too light for the job. This assumes your shot placement is good; deer have tenacity for life and are not always easy to “knock off their feet” as some hunters like to think. 

I would not want to start a fight at the deer camp fire ring, but sometimes deer hunters pick the wrong cartridges for effective deer hunting. We all have our opinions on this subject, but there are some caliber/cartridges that are just too light for consistent kills on white-tailed deer. I consider 130-grain bullets the minimum, but I use 150 or heavier versions. 

You might have an ammunition brand preference, but all of today’s modern factory ammo are pretty darned good. Even so, trying two to three different brands in the same bullet weight will determine which specific load your individual rifle shoots the best. This creates a level playing field for a best-accuracy setup. 


At the range

The first time I sighted in my first deer rifle, it was over the hood of a truck shooting at a paper box at some unknown range. This is not the proper way to do it.

Start by bore-sighting your rifle and scope. There are several ways to do this, but you can buy an inexpensive bore-sighting device to do it yourself.

However, bore sighting is just a starting place not the finished product. 

Set up a proper shooting bench, even if it is a portable folding table with a folding chair. Forget shooting off the seat of your ATV.

Get some kind of shooting pad, pillow, sandbag or proper rest. There are commercial versions and even shooting bench stands to set the rifle into. These are great if you want to spend the money. It is money well spent. 

Regardless of whether you bore sight or not, I highly recommend shooting a few shots at a printed paper target at 25 yards. Once you “get on paper” with at least a zero at 25 yards, then you can proceed to more precision shooting at longer ranges, 100 yards being the standard. Some ammo companies like Hornady print the suggested sight-in ranges right on the box. Tons of this information is also available on the Internet.

From a known range of 100 yards, start working with three-shot strings from a solid rest. Sighting a rifle is not a rush process. Settle into the chair and bench, control your breathing and gently squeeze the trigger with the crosshairs settled on the target grid.

Let the barrel cool between shot strings, especially if it is stainless steel. Check the results with a spotting scope or target inspection. 

Most modern hunting rifles will print three shots into an inch grouping, but even a consistent group of 2 to 3 inches is not unacceptable for most short-range Mississippi deer hunting. The point is to know where your rifle, scope and ammunition are hitting the target. Then you can adjust your hold in the field accordingly.

This procedure should get your favorite deer rifle on target right where you want it.